Jogger Lawsuit Is a Lesson in Civility in New COVID-19 Normal

April 27, 2020

By: Kimberly Klein

Philadelphia attorney, Josiah Knapp, alleges he was walking down the street when defendant Tess Wei jogged too closely to him.  Knapp claims he moved aside to put more distance between him and the jogger as advised by government authorities, but Wei nevertheless jogged within two to three feet of him “breathing heavily.”

Knapp claims he told Wei she should have moved to the other side of the sidewalk, and an argument ensued.  Wei then took video of Knapp and posted it on her Instagram account, claiming Knapp yelled at her and coughed in her face.  The post was picked up by Wei’s cousin, Peter Chau, who was not present during the altercation.  Chau added fuel to the fire, claiming Knapp coughed on his cousin and told her to “go back where you came from,” implying Knapp was racist.  The posts went viral, and subsequently, Knapp and his boutique law firm were identified.

Knapp claims, as a result of the postings and defamatory remarks, he has been subjected to personal and professional ridicule and overt threats.  Knapp sued Wei and Chau for defamation and for portraying him in a false light.  He is seeking an injunction, damages in excess of $50,000 and other relief.

As the dialogue begins about leaving our homes and reentering the world, it is not hard to imagine such altercations, especially in cities like Philadelphia and New York City with millions living in close quarters.  Presumably, people will sympathize with both parties.  Understandably to some, Knapp was concerned about his health and particularly conscious of the mandate to social distance by the requisite footage.  Wei allegedly jogged too close to him, causing him discomfort and he reacted.  At the same time, there are those who can identify with the need to get outside, stretch their legs and go for a run, with the understanding that you may not always be able to stay on the other side of the sidewalk.  As many of us know, it’s easy to lose yourself in thought as you exercise.    

Undoubtedly, both thought they were in the right.  But now, more than ever, we need to take a deep breath.  While one can hope that people will follow the social distancing guidelines (and I put myself in that category), wear masks, frequently wash their hands, cough into their elbow and do all of the other things the medical authorities have advised, we will all most likely find ourselves in uncomfortable positions.  Someone will walk - or run - too close to us; some will choose not to wear masks; some will continue to socialize in large groups; some will even insist the virus is a hoax. 

But if this lawsuit teaches us anything, it’s how quickly things can escalate if we do not take that deep breath before responding.  One minute you are running an errand or exercising, the next you have been disparaged on social media and your reputation maligned or you have become a defendant in a lawsuit.  There are no winners here. 

When we do come out of our apartments, if we are to succeed in this new normal we need to do it through tolerance and patience whenever possible.  It will not always be easy, but it will be necessary to maintain civility.  So many lost their lives fighting this virus; the least we can do is honor their loss by respecting each other, even if that means having to look at a situation through someone else’s point-of-view.